A Revolting Cost Benefit Analysis

 Posted by on 11 March 2004 at 6:27 pm  Uncategorized
Mar 112004

Eugene blogs on a rather disturbing case in which a nine-months-pregnant woman allowed one of her twins to die rather than have a c-section, because the scar would “ruin her life.” That stillborn twin died in utero a few days later, just two days before the birth. The woman is being charged with murder.

Eugene writes:

A really tough issue: On the one hand, I’m skittish about any legal requirement that someone get surgery, even to save her child’s life. On the other hand, parents do rightly have a legal obligation to take care of their children, and it may well be that this obligation does extend even to going under the knife. Thought experiment: Should the law be able to force a parent — on pain of a murder conviction — to donate bone marrow to save a child’s life? Should it be able to do so, but only on pain of conviction of a lesser offense, such as involuntary manslaughter or child neglect?

I also wonder whether the facts as reported justly support a murder charge or some lesser charge. Notably, the case doesn’t exactly map onto the abortion debate, as this circumstance involve letting die rather than active killing. But obviously, if someone believes in an total right to abortion up to the moment that the umbilical cord is cut, then letting die anytime before that point would presumably also ought be legally permissible.

For various reasons related to the autonomy of rights-bearers, I regard natural viability as the proper standard for abortion rights in ordinary circumstances. So on my view, should a woman have the right to allow her fully viable fetus die when it could be so easily saved? I don’t know, but I suspect not. Legal parental obligations perhaps begin when that viability point is passed — or whenever the woman commits to carry the fetus to term.

In any case, I do think that the woman’s choice indicates significant character defects, defects which will likely strongly impact the quality of her parenting. This decision of hers thus might be a prima facie reason to vacate her parental rights to the live-born twin. But that’s also a rather weighty legal decision.

As a last thought, I wonder whether the doctor adequately explained the procedure to her or not. Was she deeply irrational, wholly misinformed, or some combination thereof? It’s really hard to imagine someone so callous towards the life of her child, although obviously such people exist.

Update: Eugene posted a long commentary from an ob-gyn on the medical facts about such cases. Very interesting!

Update 2: I just heard on FoxNews that the woman’s two prior children were born via c-section, which makes her decision all the more strange.

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